Osamu Furukawa has driven lots of Japanese cars for his business converting classic gasoline-powered models to electric.
But his favorite ride is an import: A battery-powered SUV from China’s BYD Auto.
BYD Auto is part of a wave of Chinese electric car exporters that are starting to compete with Western and Japanese brands in their home markets.
They bring fast-developing technology and low prices that Tesla’s chief financial officer says “are scary.”
Furukawa said he ordered an ATTO 3 when it went on sale Jan. 31, for its user-friendly features and appealing price of 4.4 million yen ($33,000) or about one-quarter less than a Tesla.
“It’s perfect,” Furukawa said.
Other ambitious Chinese EV exporters include NIO, Geely Group’s Zeekr and Ora, a unit of SUV maker Great Wall Motors.
Some compete on price. Others emphasize performance and features, putting pressure on Western and Japanese premium brands.
NIO, which has persuaded buyers in China to pay Tesla-level sticker prices of up to 555,000 yuan ($80,000), says its latest SUV goes on sale this year in Europe.
The ES6 boasts voice-activated controls and a range of 610 kilometers on a charge.
Sales of battery-powered vehicles and gasoline-electric hybrids in China almost doubled last year to 6.9 million vehicles, or half the global total.
That was supported by multibillion-dollar subsidies from the ruling Communist Party, which is trying to make China a creator of clean energy and other technologies. That rattles U.S. and European leaders who see China as a strategic and industrial competitor.
Chinese brands are “serious competition,” according to David Leah, an analyst for GlobalData.
They have “more competitive battery technology” and can “achieve greater economies of scale,” Leah said in an email.
BYD Auto, owned by battery maker BYD Co., edged ahead of Tesla in total 2022 sales at 1.9 million vehicles. Half were gasoline-electric hybrids, while Tesla’s fleet is pure electric.
Chinese brands are developing EVs to compete without subsidies as Beijing shifts the burden to the industry by requiring them to earn credits for selling electrics. Prices start as low as 100,000 yuan ($14,500) for a compact SUV with a 400-kilometer (250-mile) range on one charge.
“The Chinese are scary,” Tesla CFO Zachary Kirkhorn said on the analyst call.
Chinese EV brands mix research and design centers in the United States and Europe with factories in China.